Golf, it could be argued, is the only golden thing right now in the Irish economy.
The island boasts a band of world beating golfers including one, Rory McIlroy who is atop the golfing world in the span between the U.S. and British opens.
And yet the Irish Open, slated for Killarney at the end of this month, has lost its sponsor and is scratching around the rough for a new backer.
As a result of losing the sponsorship of the “3” mobile phone company, this year’s tournament, running fron July 28-31, was launched in Dublin last week with a reduced €1.5 million prize fund and the title “The Irish Open presented by Discover Ireland.”
The tournament, according to the Irish Examiner, “was kept alive by Fáilte Ireland and the European Tour following November’s withdrawal of 3 as title sponsor.”
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The paper reported that it “understood” that a major global financial services group, Zurich, was in talks to become the tournament’s next title sponsor, adding the event to a golf sponsorship portfolio that already includes two PGA Tour events in America, the Zurich Classic of New Orleans and The Farmers’ Insurance Open, as well as associate sponsorship of European Tour events including the European Masters and Wales Open.
A sponsor with the name of a Swiss city would at least look appropriate given the alpine backdrop to the Killarney course but the new backer, if it is indeed Zurich, would not be in place until next year.
In a bid to clinch the deal, the (European) Tour is flying in one of the group’s global corporate chief executives to Ireland to play alongside Pádraig Harrington in the Irish Open Pro-Am on the eve of the tournament,” the report in the Cork-published Examiner added.
This year’s €1.5 prize fund at Killarney will be half that of last year. most of it, €1.25 million, will be put up Fáilte Ireland, whose chairman, Redmond O’Donoghue, has stated that the tourism body would continue to back the Irish Open even if a title sponsor was not found.
“It was Fáilte Ireland’s decision to support this, this year and we would be very supportive again next year if we don’t get a commercial sponsor. But this is a great product. It should be easy-ish to sell, even in these stressful times.
“If we had a little more time, we might have done something this year but we’re bridging the gap this year and I’d be very hopeful that we could move on and we will have a major title sponsor for the following three years to 2014,” O’Donoghue said.
“But even if that did not happen we would be as supportive again and I believe the European Tour would be and this will continue to happen here.”
Even with the reduced prize fund Irish golf’s three major winners, Rory McIlroy, Graeme McDowell and Padraig Harrington are down to play as will defending champion, Englishman Ross Fisher.
According to the Irish Independent, outside of the four majors and WGC events, the Irish Open was the joint sixth most lucrative tournament on the 2010 European Tour schedule but has been no stranger to sponsorship challenges over the years.
“The 2007 staging had no title sponsor but was still a €2.5 million event when (Padraig) Harrington bridged the 25-year gap to the last Irishman to win the national championship.”
The Irish Open dates back to 1927 but it was replaced between 1953 and 1974 by the Carrolls International tournament. It was revived in 1975 and since that year some of the most famous names in golf, including Ben Crenshaw, Seve Ballesteros, Bernhardt Langer and Nick Faldo have captured the title.